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Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) announced a new secretary of state on Friday after the incumbent tendered her resignation this week.

State Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican whose district is in the Jacksonville area, was selected to fill the impending vacancy for the position that oversees Florida's election systems.

“Cord Byrd has been an ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature, and I am confident he will carry that mission forward as secretary of state,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I look forward to his successes ensuring Florida’s elections remain safe, secure and well-administered.”

FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE RESIGNS AHEAD OF MIDTERM ELECTIONS

Byrd has served all six years of his time in the lower chamber as a member of the Public Integrity and Elections Committee, and sponsored several pieces of legislation, including the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics, which restricts classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.

“As Secretary of State, I will make sure Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens in the face of big-tech censorship and ever-growing cybersecurity threats," he said in a statement.

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, makes his closing remarks on his sponsored E-verify bill during session Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Tallahassee, Florida. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)


Democrats were critical of the move.

"The Secretary of State should serve the people of Florida, but Cord Byrd today was appointed because he will serve only Ron DeSantis," Nikki Fried, the Florida agriculture commissioner who is running for governor, said in a tweet. "This reckless appointment should make every Floridian question Ron DeSantis’ commitment to free, fair, and democratic elections."

The Secretary of State should serve the people of Florida, but Cord Byrd today was appointed because he will serve only Ron DeSantis.

This reckless appointment should make every Floridian question Ron DeSantis’ commitment to free, fair, and democratic elections. https://t.co/ndIOsFgjq4

— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) May 13, 2022


Byrd's wife, Esther Byrd, was appointed by DeSantis to the state's Board of Education in March.

Laurel Lee, the departing secretary of state, submitted her letter of resignation to DeSantis on Thursday. The letter said Lee's resignation is effective May 16.

"I am grateful for your support throughout my tenure, and I am honored to have been part of your vision for our state," Lee said in her letter, adding that she was looking forward to "what the future holds."

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There is some speculation that Lee is leaving the role to prepare a campaign for Florida's 15th Congressional District. The deadline by which candidates must qualify in order to run in the Senate, congressional, and gubernatorial races is in roughly one month.

The change in the leadership comes months before the midterm elections in the fall. DeSantis is seeking a second term as governor, and has raised over $100 million for his reelection campaign, and is often talked about as a top-tier Republican contender should he choose to run for president.

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Florida Takes Aim At Redistricting Ruling

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The state asked an appeals court Wednesday to reinstate a stay on a circuit judge’s ruling that blocked a congressional redistricting plan pushed through the Legislature by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

An emergency motion filed at the 1st District Court of Appeal argued that Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith erred last week when he issued a temporary injunction against the plan — and when he lifted a stay on the ruling Monday.

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The case centers on a sprawling North Florida district that was drawn in the past to help elect a Black member of Congress. DeSantis argued that continuing with such a district would involve racial gerrymandering and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Legislature approved DeSantis’ proposal to revamp the district, condensing it in the Jacksonville area. But Smith ruled that the plan violated a 2010 state constitutional amendment — known as the Fair Districts amendment — that barred diminishing the ability of minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.”

Smith’s temporary injunction also ordered use of a map that would keep the current sprawling shape of the district, which stretches from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee. Using that map also would affect some other districts.

The state last week appealed the temporary injunction, a move that triggered an automatic stay under court rules. But Smith on Monday held a hearing and approved a request from voting-rights groups to vacate the stay.

In the filing Wednesday, attorneys for the state requested that the Tallahassee-based appeals court reinstate the stay while the underlying appeal moves forward. They also took aim at Smith’s temporary injunction, saying the sprawling configuration of the district, Congressional District 5, is not “narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest” as required by federal law.

“There is no compelling justification for a racially gerrymandered district in North Florida,” the 67-page filing said. “As adopted by the circuit court, Congressional District 5 does not serve any compelling state interest that could be consistent with the federal Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”

The state’s attorneys also argued that Smith erred by issuing an injunction to require use of a different map so close to this year’s elections. The candidate-qualifying period for the elections will be held in mid-June, with primaries on Aug. 23.

“(The) U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts have made clear that trial courts, in all but perhaps the most extraordinary circumstances, cannot issue injunctions that alter state election laws in the months preceding an election,” the state’s attorneys wrote.

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Attorneys for voting-rights groups and other plaintiffs in the case filed a notice saying they would respond Thursday to the state’s emergency motion. Separately, the plaintiffs’ attorneys requested that the issue of vacating the stay should be fast-tracked to the Florida Supreme Court, effectively bypassing the 1st District Court of Appeal.

“At this point, no matter how quick, this court’s (the 1st District Court of Appeals’) review of the stay-vacatur order in this court would severely constrain, if not prevent, the Supreme Court from issuing a final ruling on injunctive relief securing fundamental constitutional rights in time for the 2022 elections,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

In vacating the stay Monday, Smith also pointed to the short amount of time to prepare for the year’s elections.

“It’s crunch time now, and this involves fundamental constitutional rights,” Smith said.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit April 22 after the Republican-dominated Legislature passed the DeSantis-backed redistricting plan during a special session. That plan would boost the number of GOP representatives in Florida’s congressional delegation.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also asked for the temporary injunction focusing on District 5, which has been held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. The DeSantis plan to put the district in the Jacksonville area would reduce the chances of electing a Black representative.

In issuing the temporary injunction, Smith, who was appointed as a circuit judge by DeSantis, wrote that the plaintiffs had shown a “substantial likelihood of proving that the enacted plan violates the non-diminishment standard” of the Fair Districts amendment.

Smith also rejected the DeSantis administration’s arguments about the Equal Protection Clause and whether a compelling interest existed for keeping the east-west shape of District 5. He wrote, in part, that “compliance with the Fair Districts amendment’s non-diminishment provision is a compelling state interest.”

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Also, he wrote that “addressing the history of voting-related racial discrimination and a lack of representation in North Florida in itself constitutes a compelling state interest.”

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